The state is about to build a 55-foot-high bridge over the Wando River — and there’s nothing you can do about it.
It’s expensive, it’s a lot bigger than it needs to be and a lot of people don’t want it. People hate the idea of this bridge so much you’d think it was part of the I-526 completion.
And they’re right — it’s ludicrous.
But it could be worse. The bridge could have been 65 feet high.
Residents of outer Mount Pleasant and Cainhoy learned about the new bridge at a community meeting last week, as Brenda Rindge reported on Tuesday. While local officials were giving a presentation on the new Cainhoy Plantation development, they mentioned that the new 55-foot bridge over S.C. Highway 41 was going out for bid soon.
Yeah, but what about the protests, the petitions, the steady chorus of locals who have said they don’t want a bridge higher than 35 feet?
Well, that’s just too bad.
But before you storm the state Department of Transportation, understand one thing: They don’t want it either.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous to put a 55-foot bridge up there,” says DOT Commissioner Jim Rozier.
So what’s the problem?
Uh, the feds.
Take your pick
There is no question we need a new Highway 41 bridge.
The old drawbridge dates back to the Depression and is one stiff breeze away from falling into the Wando. It’s old, it’s creaky, it’s dangerous. Eight years ago, the state predicted it might have 10 years of life left.
They were being generous.
“I’m worried about that bridge,” Mount Pleasant Mayor Billy Swails says. “I want a new bridge.”
This has been going on for nearly a decade. And for years local officials and residents supported the idea of a 35-foot bridge. The state agreed. But now they are pushing ahead for a 55-foot span — and there’s no room for debate.
Some people suspect landowners (developers) upriver want this, with big plans for marinas or some such thing. State and local officials swear that’s not the case. They say the U.S. Coast Guard, which approves bridge heights, scared them.
Last year, Coast Guard officials said in a public meeting that the state could apply for a bridge of any height it wanted. Asked about it later, they conceded federal regulations about access to waterways could conceivably torpedo any bridge lower than 55 feet.
But the state was welcome to ask anyway.
Transportation officials say they were given a different choice by Coast Guard brass: 55 feet or 65 feet.
“It would have taken us two or three years to go through the process just to get turned down,” Rozier says.
Stairway to heaven
Folks who live off Highway 41 believe this new bridge will be noisy, out of scale for the area and an eyesore.
Yes, you may be able to see it from Dunes West. You might be able to see it from space.
Still, the bottom line is that we need a new bridge. And state and local officials say we need it so bad they aren’t going to drag this out any longer.
Swails says it’s just political reality. The state won’t build a new drawbridge — they are too expensive to maintain — and the U.S. government is unlikely to bend federal regulations.
“The DOT actually did everything they possibly could,” Swails says. “They were told it was going to be 65 feet or 55 feet — which did they prefer? I can see where the Coast Guard is coming from.”
Yes, the Coast Guard is just following the rules. And obviously there’s no flexibility in Washington these days.
At the same time, the residents are right: the Wando is not a thoroughfare, and is rarely traveled by boats that need that much clearance.
But bottom line, we have to have a new bridge, and apparently the rules say we have to have one that’s 55 feet high.
No matter how unnecessary it is, there’s no point fighting any longer.
It’s a done deal.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org